Social Gaming: A Review of Empire Avenue

When someone brings up social gaming, a few things may pop into your head: Angry Birds, Mafia Wars, Farmville…

What if social gaming wasn’t all about beating levels, planting crops or killing bosses? What if the players were real and their actions drove your success or failure? If that were ever the case, the social game you come up with might be called Empire Avenue.

Empire Avenue is a social game where you can buy stock in real people whose values rise and fall depending on their interaction. Think Klout meets SimCity.

empire-avenue-gameWhile the idea of buying ownership in people originally gave me pause, I noticed that a TON of people were absolutely raving about Empire Avenue, so I decided to dig in and set up an account for myself.


What’s the Point?

Honestly, I looked at my screen for a full five minutes before I had any clue what to do. Then I actually logged into the platform again as if some epiphany would strike me… it didn’t.

The platform screamed at me from all angles to do something. From the achievements popping up as it parsed through my online life I had connected to it, to my net worth changing before my eyes, to the ubiquitous requests for me to buy shares in people I didn’t know from both the chat window at the bottom of the screen and the unsolicited posts on my “wall-like” area to the right of my screen.

Clearly outmatched by this social juggernaut in front of me, I did what any self-respecting intellectual would do: I called up one of the co-creators of Empire Avenue, Dups Wijayawardhana, and asked him what the hell I was supposed to do with this thing.


What makes Empire Avenue cool?

Three things:

  • It can “just” be a game
  • Passionate user base
  • Connect where you want

It can “just” be a game; there’s no business requirement to play.

If you listened to Dups’ call, you might have noticed him saying that they understand that some people will use Empire Avenue just as a game. These users won’t care about their social influence; they just want to make virtual dollars off your hard work.

While some might wonder why this is important to an audience on a social marketing blog, let me fill you in. Empire Avenue found that people wanted to use their platform in a way that they may not have (or totally may have) expected, and decided to just “roll with it.” Giving your community the option to use your platform the way they want to is a level that most controlling marketers can’t ever attain. Not a bad case study when you consider…


They have an (almost) uncomfortably passionate user base.

People who love Empire Avenue really love Empire Avenue. I had heard the gushing from miles away before I even knew what this thing was. To be honest, I thought it was another annoying Mafia Wars–type game when I first heard of it, which is pretty interesting. When I first heard of Empire Avenue, I immediately thought it had come from the social gaming giant that’s predicted to make about $1.5BN this year.

In reality, Empire Avenue is a small team run by 5 (superhuman?) people; which should be a huge comfort to smaller brands trying to make an impact in this social world of millions.

Empire Avenue’s users range from excited to stark-raving lunatics. The game is so addicting that people literally jump on you when you first set up an account in light of your unavoidable initial jump in share price. Not just that, the social-climbing market gushes about the game so much that they form factions to band together to network and (fight crime) grow their social circles as a team, which is as close as we’re going to get to having an actual Justice League anytime soon. Impressive feat indeed.

Empire Avenue shows you the best place to connect.

Everyone knows how I feel about Klout. But one thing that I was unaware that I didn’t like was the fact that they didn’t give me a preferred platform to connect on.

Have you ever found your favorite guru/hero/celebrity online somewhere and tried to connect with his or her profile only to find out that the person only posts inspirational quotes, or the profile is a one-way stream of posts?

Well, Empire Avenue does something that I think is pure genius and makes your life easier—by a large amount of whatever “easy” is measured in these days (kilowatts?).

Empire Avenue places a score on each individual network you connect to the platform, not just a total share price. This is totally important because if I wanted to connect with the awesome Miss Destructo, all I’d have to do is look at her Empire Avenue profile and see that she had the highest score on Facebook and Twitter, and go from there. Genius.

The message that’s missed in this point is that Empire Avenue is doing something other social platforms suck at big-time. They’re allowing you to connect on whichever platform makes sense, not requiring you to stay on their platform out of ego. Kudos, guys. Love it.

Why you should pass on Empire Avenue.

Two reasons:

  • Can be overwhelming
  • “Game” players can be annoying

As with most things that are hyped, there are always some glaring holes that need to be addressed, and Empire Avenue is no different.

The platform can be overwhelming, especially to new users.

Remember when I said, “I didn’t know what to do when I first set up my Empire Avenue account” a while ago? Well, I had an assignment to do, so I had to figure something out. New users don’t have to do that at all.

The cool thing about Empire Avenue is that there are a million paths you can travel to have a good time. The downside is that most people, when presented with a ton of options, choose none of them and leave.

The coders are obviously talented, and the platform is beautiful, but there’s something to be said about simplicity, especially to casual users who may be trying to dip a toe into the social gaming experience, and not jump in 100% yet. However, that doesn’t annoy me nearly as much as…

The people who “just play the game” are totally annoying.

Remember way back when (read: every day) on Twitter when spambots used to @reply you with links to buy their products? Empire Avenue’s version of these users aren’t selling crappy products, they’re selling themselves.

To draw a parallel, it’s like prostitution, except every prostitute is channeling Billy Mays and has a megaphone directly connected to your profile via chat popups.

I completely understand why Dups and Empire Avenue embrace the “game only” users, but my first impression of them tells me that they need to be put in another part of Empire Avenue. Give them the same features, just keep them far away from the “networking” users. (For those scoring at home, yes, we have slavery, prostitution and segregation references in the same article. You may congratulate me on my taboo hat-trick in the comments section.)

It would be cool if…

Uncomfortable jokes aside, while reviewing Klout, and now Empire Avenue, there seems to be a missing piece of this influence puzzle that would be a virtual godsend to the company that had a chance to address it.

Someone in this space needs to add a conversion statistic to their algorithm. Influence is one of those ambiguous words that should only be used when coupled with something else. Sure you have influence, but influence over what is the key.

In a marketer’s world, we don’t want influence over the clicking of a Twitter link, we really want influence over the ability to get someone to buy something that they weren’t thinking of before, or the influence to make a customer choose us as the solution to their problem over thousands of vendors.

Adding a conversion metric to these influence algorithms would go a long way to giving businesses that “one metric” that they can hand to their boss, or give job-seeking marketers a number that clearly tells a potential employer that this person gets things done and closes actual business online instead of just being popular for popularity’s sake.

How do you do something like this? How in the world would I know? I’m just a blogger… ;)

How do I really feel about Empire Avenue?

Honestly, I hated Empire Avenue when I first logged on. It looked like a spammer’s paradise. Couple that with the “Mafia Wars” comparisons I was already making in my head, and I was ready to write a scathing (read: slightly unimpressed) review of the platform.

Then I spoke to Dups. And I got it.

Empire Avenue is a great anti-platform. It’s a social game with cool networking features, not a social platform with gaming features.

Those annoying gamers I just talked about are the home team. They own the platform side of Empire Avenue, and they should. If you’re planning to use Empire Avenue for a tool to network with the users there, get off the Empire Avenue platform completely. Find their highest-rated platform and go there, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or other venue.


Viewing Empire Avenue in this way allows me to see the platform in a new light and also to love it for what it is—an awesome, feature-packed social game that can also connect me to some of the most influential people on the web.

Not a bad accomplishment for such a small team.

What do you think? Have you ever gotten addicted to playing a social game? Ever connected with anyone you’ve gamed with? Let us know in the comments section below.

by-Elijah Young

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